Keogh Bay has undertaken numerous NDIS transition projects in regional and remote locations across all States and Territories in recent years. One of the recurring themes emerging from the more remote projects has been both, the recognition by all stakeholders of the clear opportunities that exist for Community Development Program (CDP) providers to provide NDIS services and transition CDP participants to some form of employment, and the general failure of CDP providers to take advantage of these opportunities and become registered and sustainable NDIS service providers.
Opportunities for CDP providers in the NDIS
There are a number of opportunities / advantages for CDP providers to provide NDIS services in future. These include the following:
· Low risk NDIS Services – In addition to the high support and highly regulated disability services that are funded through the NDIS, there are also a number of lower risk and more basic support services that are available to NDIS participants such as yard maintenance, cleaning, linen/laundry, community participation and skills development services. CDP providers, in some cases may be well placed to provide such services.
· Access to a remote labour pool – CDP providers have access to a large number of job-seekers and may be able to identify those individuals that have an interest in the types of employment opportunities that NDIS service delivery might provide.
· The economics of a Community-based employment model – The NDIS price guide (even after including the remote and very remote supplements) does not provide for a high profit margin for the types of low risk NDIS services mentioned above. As such, the only way that these services can be provided on a sustainable (profitable) basis is for local people to provide the bulk of the services (rather than a DIDO or FIFO model).
· Potential to create a remote employment market – In many remote communities the available employment opportunities may be very limited. The NDIS may therefore present a significant employment opportunity for remote communities to transition CDP participants across to some form of (usually part-time) employment in delivering basic NDIS services.
· Existing remote facilities, management and infrastructure – In many remote communities, the only significant infrastructure will be that owned by the CDP, the Shire or the AMS. The absence of such facilities and the difficulties of establishing new infrastructure (Land Council approval etc.) is a major barrier to new providers delivering remote NDIS services. The fact that many CDP providers already have activity centres and management teams located in remote communities is a huge advantage in establishing a viable remote NDIS service delivery market.
· Potential to widen the range of services available to local people – One of the great opportunities provided by the NDIS is the potential to provide a wider range of services to people with a disability in remote communities than would otherwise be the case.
· Opportunity to support NDIS participants to develop skills and get back on country – There is a clear synergy between the core business of CDP (skills development and employment training) and the potential to provide NDIS participants with real prospects to get back on country, develop similar skills and participate in social and cultural activities (and therefore increasing social and emotional wellbeing);
Why hasn’t it happened then?
Whilst there are a number of organisations across the country that have dipped their toe into the world of NDIS service provision, it is reasonable to say that there hasn’t been a large-scale rush so far of CDP providers registering to provide NDIS services and realising the opportunities set out above. Why is that?
· Limited government support for CDP providers to transition to the NDIS – Of the four CDP providers that Keogh Bay has worked with in recent years, two were able to access NT government funding (via the excellent NT NDIS Business Readiness Program) to undertake high level feasibility studies on a proposed move to NDIS service delivery. The other two services (located in other jurisdictions) had to fund such projects out of their own reserves. Not all providers have the financial capacity to fund such projects and therefore the opportunities pass them by.
· Departure from core business – The core business of CDP providers is the provision of work readiness training and completion of community development activities in remote communities. The boards and management of many CDP providers therefore view NDIS service provision as too much of a departure from this core business.
· All financial risks are carried by service providers – The nature of the NDIS service delivery model is that service providers do not receive income until after NDIS services have been provided. In the case of a CDP provider, this could mean that NDIS registration, development of new policies and procedures, employment of new staff and development of an implementation strategy all has to be funded by the CDP provider (over a number of months) before a single NDIS dollar is generated. This is a significant risk for organisations that may not have significant financial reserves.
· Lack of awareness of the opportunities – Given the challenging nature of remote CDP service provision and the focus on core business, many providers remain unaware of the opportunities that the NDIS provides.
What can be done to fix it?
There are a number of ways in which government can support and encourage CDP providers to transition to become NDIS service providers and take advantage of the opportunities that clearly exist.
· Sharing of good practice – There remains a wider need for a remote NDIS service provision better practice guide, but specific to CDP providers there is a clear need to share the experiences of the early movers in terms of what works and what doesn’t to ensure that lessons are learnt early and money and time isn’t wasted.
· Access to funding support for feasibility and transition activities – There have been a number of state and territory based NDIS transition support programs which have been of varying degrees of effectiveness, but almost all are focussed on supporting existing providers rather than encouraging new providers to join the scheme. This means that CDP providers need to fund such activities themselves and take on 100% of the financial risks of becoming an NDIS service provider.
· Targeted approach specific to CDP providers – Given the unique location and function of CDP providers and the synergies between their existing services and the NDIS, there is a strong case for government to develop targeted NDIS transition support programs for CDP providers across the country to better enable them to turn these opportunities into reality. This will reduce the financial risks faced by CDP providers and enable them to focus on core business whilst they receive external support to increase the capacity to prepare for NDIS registration and deliver services.
Overall, if no coordinated action is taken by government to encourage and support CDP providers to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the NDIS then the outcomes will be patchy at best and the potential game changing employment opportunities will be lost. There is still time however, through the suggestions outlined above, for government to step in and make a difference. I reckon there will be some serious ‘bang for the buck’ from this sort of investment of funding.